Compared to other economic crises, governments have never had so many different roles to play and tasks to perform than now when reopening our societies.
Strong public sectors are often described as a prerequisite for efficient societies and economies. The sectors provide education and training needed to foster the right workforce, health care systems that take care of us when we get sick, and regulation which enables better growth conditions and safe societies.
Nevertheless, the public sectors are often criticized for being too expensive, ineffective, bureaucratic and non-responsive – even in countries usually known for having strong and effective public sectors. The tone of this debate, however, has shifted in many countries during the last couple of months.
This has happened as we have witnessed governments and public service leaders across the world making fast but profound decisions with no precedent to draw upon, in order to develop and enact response plans to COVID-19.
An unprecedented number of roles to play
In comparison to other economic crises, governments have never had so many different roles to play and tasks to perform than right now in the reopening of societies.
Some of the tasks have been highly visible during the first critical phases of COVID-19. On door steps, through press releases and in interviews, governments have strived to provide clear, consistent and adequate communication to all, while also making sure that protocols are followed.
Another very visible element has been the aid packages that governments introduced to ensure businesses’ survival in the short term. This is possible in countries with effective and well-functioning public sectors.
Worldwide, we clearly see the differences in how governments and public sectors have dealt with the COVID-19 challenges – and the endeavors are far from over. Several new tasks arise as we enter the next phases of the pandemic.
The greatest challenges of our time
Looking ahead, we are facing the long tough haul of reopening our societies and handling the long-term, and still unknown consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. In many countries, this comes with great challenges for the public sectors.
This includes handling a gigantic pile of cases in the health care sectors where many patient groups have not received the proper treatment during the lockdown. It includes helping marginalized children who have been forced to stay with their parents who are not capable of taking care of them. It includes a huge number of unemployed citizens that need support to get back into work. And it includes supporting companies with getting their businesses back on track – while also designing plans for how to cope with similar situations in the future.
There is no doubt that the reopening of our societies is one of the most important events and greatest challenges in recent history. It is a complex task that shifts as circumstances evolve. It requires prioritization, new regulation and rethinking of how things are done in various areas.
Time for recognition
So far, the pandemic has rightly put a spotlight on the extraordinary work of frontline health care workers. But coming out of COVID-19, I hope the situation gives rise to a broader recognition of the many public sector employees who help create a well-functioning society, also the ones behind their desks, also in non-crisis times.
They deserve it – and we need it. Especially in the case of another black swan event in the future.
The COVID-19 crisis has truly underlined how important strong public sectors are for a modern society in a globalized world where things can change overnight. And there is no doubt that strong public sectors will be absolutely crucial in order to get our economies and societies back on track.
Specializes in the public sector, regulation and deregulation, reforms in the public sector and strategy. Carsten is managing partner for Government & Public Services in NSE (North South Europe). He has more than 20 years of experience as a consultant and advisor for the public sector, where he has led several highly complex analyses and larger transformation programs